google says so long to average position

Google Says “So Long” To Average Position6 min read


It’s time to prepare for the retirement of the popular, yet perhaps dated Average Position metric. Google will be doing away with the grandfather statistic this coming September. I know a lot of you (us) use this metric for optimization purposes and will, therefore, be a little annoyed by this, but we’re here to explain why it makes sense and to reassure you that you will indeed survive.

What is Average Position?

In case there’s anybody reading this that’s unaware of what exactly “Average Position” means, here’s the definition that Google itself provides:

Average Position is “a statistic that describes how your ad typically ranks against other ads. This rank determines in which order ads appear on the page.”

Based on this simple definition, it seems as though this would be a very helpful metric when determining how your ads are performing. For this reason, we as advertisers have been using it with our clients for ages. However, there have always been a couple of fundamental flaws…

The first is that you see an “Average Position” is just that – an average. It goes without saying that there is no position 1.7, so ultimately what you’re getting is simply an idea of where, or in what order, your ad is showing.

You’re probably saying “Okay, well who cares?” 

“I still know my ad is showing in position 1 or 2 for the most part.” Technically this is correct. But it doesn’t really tell the whole story. Think about how Google actually displays text ads on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP)…

As I am sure you’ve noticed, there is no absolute set amount of how many ads are going to show on a page during any given query (at least not that Google has made known to us common folk). We’ve probably all run thousands (millions?) of searches on Google in our days and we’ve all seen it. There are times where not a single ad will appear at the top of the page (rare, I know, but it happens). But there are also times when you’ll see up to four text ads above the organic results. And I’m no gossip, but the rumor is that number will only get higher.

This is when we find ourselves in a bit of a predicament

A predicament not just with measurement, but even with our own optimization processes. Let’s say your Average Position is 2.2. That doesn’t seem so bad right? Maybe you round that up to a flat 2. You’re above the organic search results. Life is good! Or maybe not.

The problem is we don’t know how often our ad shows above organic results or below them on any given search because we can’t know for sure how many paid ads are going to show on any given search.

I don’t think it would surprise anybody to find out that ads above organic results tend to be much more successful than ads below those results. So, if we know our ad is usually appearing in position 2 or 3, but we don’t know if that position is above or below the organic results, then we don’t have all the info we need in order to make the best possible decisions regarding bid optimization.

Google’s New Metrics

This is where Google’s four new metrics come in handy. In November of 2018, Google introduced the following statistics:

  • (Absolute Top) %: The percent of your ads’ impressions shown in position 1 above the organic search results.
  • (Top) %: The percent of your ads’ impressions that are shown anywhere above the organic search results.
  • Search (Absolute Top) IS: The impressions your ads received in position 1 above the organic search results, divided by the number of times they were eligible to do so.
  • Search (Top) IS: The impressions your ad received above the organic results, divided by the number of times they were eligible to do so.

Come to think of it, we should’ve seen this change coming once these were released.

Why, you ask?

Well, it’s become fairly apparent over the past few years that Google will continue to encourage advertisers to take advantage of their automated bidding strategies. The truth is that Average Position was generally a metric used by those of us a bit more keen on Manual CPC.

The push towards automated bidding is even more obvious simultaneous release of “Target Impression Share,” a bidding strategy that allows you to target where on the SERP you want your ads to show, and how often you want them to show there.


Not very subtle…

Now, well I may not be the biggest advocate of these automated strategies, I do understand their utility. There are those out there who may not have the time to manually run their campaigns. Or maybe you’re a small business without the resources to hire an agency. Whatever the reason, it makes sense.

The point is that the removal of Average Position, while certainly an adjustment, should give us more insight into where our ads are actually being shown on the SERP. Instead of bidding to optimize for ad positioning, which doesn’t give us the whole picture, we’ll be bidding to keep our ads at the top of the page (or the “absolute top”)

You don’t have to worry about this quite yet, as Google won’t be officially getting rid of Average Position until September of this year. However, we’d recommend that you get used to optimizing for the new metrics, as you won’t have a choice eventually. Here are a few things you should start doing:

  • Start including these metrics in your reporting.
  • Explain to your clients what’s happening and why.
  • Begin taking these into account when you’re making changes to your campaigns, especially your bidding.
  • Pay close attention to Avg. CPC. This change is likely to increase competitive bidding for the top of the page, thus boosting your cost-per-click.
  • If you DO decide to use automated bidding, be sure to set a bid cap and keep an eye on your spend because it can add up quickly.

Ultimately, this sort of change is something we need to get used to. Average Position was deemed an outdated statistic. Although many of us still use it to evaluate our campaigns, it is being replaced by what are meant to be more effective and relevant metrics. In a field where things move quickly, and change is inevitable, there’s no time to moan and groan. We all need to adapt in order to maintain continued success, whether it’s for ourselves or for our clients.

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